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Discover the wonders of Thingvellir National Park, where stunning landscapes meet profound historical and geological significance. From the ancient Althing parliament site to the breathtaking Silfra fissure, explore a UNESCO World Heritage site brimming with natural beauty and cultural heritage.
Written by:
Jenna Gottlieb
Content Writer
Published:
5 Jun 2024
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Thingvellir National Park is not only a site of stunning natural beauty but also a place of deep historical and geological significance. As a key stop on Iceland’s Golden Circle route, this UNESCO World Heritage site offers visitors a unique blend of natural wonders and historical insights. From the dramatic vistas to the crystal-clear waters of Silfra, Thingvellir is a must-visit for anyone travelling to Iceland.

Historical Significance of Thingvellir

Þingvellir is a cornerstone of Icelandic culture and history. In AD 930, the Althing was established here, making it one of the world’s oldest parliamentary institutions. Icelandic chieftains gathered at Þingvellir for centuries to create laws, resolve disputes, and shape the early democratic traditions that define the nation's history.

The primary functions of the Althing in its early years included:

  • Law-making: Chieftains, or goðar, would convene to propose and debate new laws. These laws were then recited aloud by the Lawspeaker (lögsögumaður), an elected official who played a crucial role in preserving and transmitting the legal code, as writing was not yet common.
  • Dispute Resolution: The Althing served as the highest court of appeal in the land. Disputes between individuals or groups were brought before the assembly, where they were adjudicated by the gathered chieftains and legal experts.
  • Social and Political Gathering: Beyond its legislative and judicial functions, the Althing was a vital social event. It provided an opportunity for the dispersed population of Iceland to come together, exchange news, engage in trade, form alliances, and settle personal or clan disputes.

Þingvellir National Park, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, serves as a living museum where visitors can walk through the same landscapes that witnessed pivotal historical events.

In addition to its historical and geological importance, Þingvellir is also a site of folklore and legends, enriching the cultural tapestry of Iceland. It has inspired countless stories, poems, and sagas that continue to be an integral part of Icelandic identity. Visitors to Þingvellir can explore this rich legacy, gaining a deeper understanding of how the past shapes the present in Iceland.

Þingvellir, where the Viking commonwealth's ancient parliament convened, is arguably Iceland's most significant historical site.

A Geological Wonder

Thingvellir lies within a rift valley that is part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian and North American plates slowly move apart at an average rate of about 2.5 centimetres per year. This vast underwater mountain range stretches from the Arctic to the southern Atlantic oceans.

This process, known as rifting, leads to the formation of fissures, faults, and cliffs, creating a dramatic landscape that visually showcases the forces shaping the Earth's crust.

Thingvellir serves as a natural laboratory for geologists and Earth scientists. The accessibility of the rift valley and its clear demonstration of tectonic processes make it an ideal site for research and education. Studies conducted at Thingvellir contribute to our understanding of plate tectonics, rift dynamics, and the geological history of the Earth.

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is one of the most significant geological features on Earth, and Thingvellir represents one of the few places where it is visible above sea level.

Attractions in Thingvellir

Lake Þingvallavatn

Lake Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland, lies at the heart of Thingvellir. This lake is renowned for its crystal-clear waters, which are fed by underground springs.

The lake’s unique ecosystem supports a variety of fish, including the native brown trout and Arctic char, making it a popular spot for fishing. Surrounding the lake are numerous hiking trails that offer spectacular views and peaceful encounters with nature.

The Althing: Iceland’s Ancient Parliament

Thingvellir is historically significant as the site of the Althing, the oldest existing parliament in the world, established in 930 AD. Here, chieftains once gathered to make laws and settle disputes, setting the foundations for modern Icelandic governance.

Visitors can explore the remains of the Althing site, including the Lögberg, or Law Rock, where the lawspeaker would proclaim the laws to the assembled crowd. This area is a must-visit for anyone interested in the roots of democracy.

Walking the Mid-Atlantic Ridge

One of the most striking features of Thingvellir is its position on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are slowly drifting apart. The park offers a rare opportunity to walk between two continents, a truly awe-inspiring experience.

The Rift Valley is marked by dramatic fissures, cliffs, and ravines, the most notable being the Almannagjá gorge. This massive rift offers breathtaking views and starkly reminds us of the powerful geological forces shaping our planet.

Öxarárfoss Waterfall

Another highlight of Thingvellir is the Öxarárfoss Waterfall, a stunning cascade that flows from the river Öxará over the park’s volcanic rocks. The waterfall is accessible via a short walk from the park’s main area.

It is particularly impressive in winter when the surrounding rocks and foliage are coated in ice and snow. This spot is beautiful and historically significant, as the river was diverted in the 9th century to provide water for the Althing assemblies.

Thingvellir Church and the Prime Minister’s Summer Residence

Visitors should not miss the Thingvellir Church and the nearby Prime Minister’s summer residence, which are located within the park. The church, initially built in the 11th century and rebuilt several times since, stands as a serene testament to Iceland’s Christian heritage. Nearby, the charming summer residence, used for official government functions, is set against a backdrop of stunning natural beauty.

Silfra Fissure Diving

Experience the thrill of diving in the Silfra fissure, where you can float between two continents. The water in Silfra is some of the clearest in the world, offering over 100 metres of underwater visibility. Diving tours are available, providing all the necessary equipment and guidance for a safe and unforgettable underwater adventure. It is not possible to dive or snorkel without a guided tour.

Hiking and Sightseeing

Thingvellir offers a variety of hiking trails that cater to all fitness levels, showcasing the park’s beautiful landscapes and historical sites. Notable points include the Althingi, the site of Iceland’s ancient parliament, and the majestic Öxarárfoss waterfall.

Photography

The unique landscapes and historical structures make Thingvellir a photographer’s paradise. Capture the striking contrast between the park’s rugged tectonic cliffs and serene natural beauty.

Snorkelling or diving in Silfra fissure, with the longest underwater visibility on Earth, feels like soaring through liquid glass.

Practical Information

Parking

There are several parking areas throughout the park, with the main ones located near major attractions like the visitor centre and Silfra. Parking fees are used to maintain and improve the park’s facilities.

Distance from Reykjavík

Thingvellir is conveniently located about 45 kilometres northeast of Reykjavík, making it an easy 45-minute drive. It’s an ideal day trip for those staying in Iceland’s capital city.

Best Time to Visit Thingvellir

To experience Thingvellir at its best, consider visiting in the early morning or late afternoon when the light is most favourable for photography. The park is open year-round, but each season offers a different experience—from summer’s lush greenery to winter’s snowy wonderland.


Two visitors interact with a digital display at Thingvellir Visitor Centre, highlighting Iceland's natural and historical features.

The visitor centre at Thingvellir is a great starting point for your visit. It offers extensive information about the park’s history, geology, and trails. The centre also has facilities, including restrooms and a café, to ensure a comfortable visit.


Thingvellir on the Golden Circle Route - Guided Tours

Thingvellir National Park is part of the Golden Circle, Iceland’s most famous tourist route, featuring some of the country’s most stunning and iconic natural landmarks.

Spanning approximately 300 kilometres and looping from Reykjavík into central Iceland and back, the route includes key attractions such as Thingvellir, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall.

While self-driving this popular circuit is a common choice for many visitors, opting for a guided tour can significantly enhance your experience. Guided tours add immense value through the knowledge and expertise of local guides.

Our experts navigate effortlessly and enrich your journey with historical facts, geological information, and cultural insights that you might miss when driving yourself. For instance, a guide can explain the historical significance of Thingvellir, where the ancient Icelandic parliament was established, making the site much more than just a visual treat.

Additionally, opting for a guided tour means sitting back, relaxing, and enjoying the scenery without the stress of navigating foreign roads or managing travel logistics.

Tours often include comfortable, climate-controlled buses or minibuses that pick you up and drop you off at your accommodation. This convenience is particularly appealing in Iceland’s unpredictable weather, where driving conditions can change swiftly and dramatically.

Driving in Iceland can be challenging, especially for those not accustomed to icy roads or sudden weather shifts. Guided tours take the pressure off by putting you in the hands of experienced drivers who are trained to handle Iceland’s unique driving conditions. This means you can enjoy your trip without worrying about road safety or the stress of driving in snow and ice.

A white Reykjavik Excursions tour bus, marked as carbon neutral, travels through a lush green landscape on a sunny day.

Icelandia tours are carbon neutral, ensuring our operations do not contribute to carbon emissions. We offset any remaining emissions by investing in renewable energy projects, making our tours a responsible choice for eco-conscious travelers.

Environmental Consideration

Guided tours can also be more environmentally sustainable. Traveling in a group reduces the number of vehicles on the road, which can help minimize the environmental impact in these often delicate natural areas.

Tour guides ensure that tourists respect the local environment, adhering to established paths and regulations designed to preserve Iceland’s pristine landscapes.

Cost-Effectiveness

Finally, guided tours can sometimes be more cost-effective than self-driving, especially when you consider the costs associated with renting a car, purchasing insurance, fuel, and possibly even GPS or Wi-Fi services. Tours include entrance fees to certain attractions or parks, and some include meals, further reducing your out-of-pocket expenses.

Thingvellir National Park offers more than just beautiful landscapes and outdoor activities; it is a gateway to understanding Iceland’s soul. From its ancient historical sites to its dynamic geological features, Thingvellir encapsulates the essence of Iceland’s past and present.

Whether you are walking through the Rift Valley, diving in the Silfra fissure, or simply soaking in the views at Lake Þingvallavatn, Thingvellir promises an enriching and unforgettable adventure.

Questions and Answers about Thingvellir

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